Stephen Bay's Photography Blog

Struggling With Landscape Photography

After I started sharing my landscape photos, I began receiving questions such as why don’t my photos turn out likes yours? and what am I doing wrong? I heard this from people who’ve gone to the same locations as me, and even from friends with whom I shot side by side. This can be a frustrating experience, knowing that you should be able to create a great image but for some reason your work doesn’t reach that bar.

I’ll be honest, landscape photography is a heavily technical genre. There are many skills you need to master and just as many ways to ruin your shot. For example, this could be knowing that to get the optimal exposure you need to add 23 stops of extra light once your highlight blinkies start flashing, or that your lens has field curvature and you need to focus closer in order to get the edges sharp.

After fieldwork, we get into post-processing which I think is the biggest stumbling block for new photographers. Lightroom is one of the simpler tools for photo editing, yet has over 80 different controls not including local adjustments. Knowing what each one does and when to use it to takes a lot of skill only obtained by many hours of practice.

The way I shoot in the field and post-process my shots, it took me a long time to learn what I needed. So if you’re starting out and feeling frustrated that your photos are falling short of your vision, I don’t think what you are feeling is unusual. We all go through that phase as we develop our skills. Here’s a very relevant quote from Ira Glass:

What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me … is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.

But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.

It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

I want to emphasize the last part of his quote, that it’s important to keep practicing and developing your photography skills. I have been photographing for years and I still run into photos which are a challenge to create. I might go to a location several times in order to get the perfect captures. Then I’ll start on processing my raws. Sometimes this is straightforward, but other times I won’t know exactly how to proceed and I’ll have to experiment. I’ve worked on some photos for days and had to reprocess them from scratch a few times to realize my photographic vision.

Stay the course, and keep at it. Eventually things will click and you’ll start producing work that you’re very happy with.